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Asian representation in Marvel movie helps balance the playing field: Richmond actress

Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theatres Sept. 3

“We aren’t at the point where we’re all on fair playing grounds, but we’re making our way there.”

Richmond-based actress Jennifer Tong is elated that Asians and people of colour are another step closer to having “an equal chance” in the film industry after hearing about Hollywood’s first Asian-led superhero movie.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Asian-American superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is set to hit theatres on Sept. 3.

It is the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast and is being eagerly anticipated by the local Chinese community if WeChat is anything to go by.

The film follows martial arts master Shang-Chi, played by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, who confronts his past and an organization called Ten Rings where he trained at a young age to be an assassin.

Tong, who has taken up roles in many theatre and TV shows, said Asian representation in the film industry has been, and still is, an “emotional and touchy subject.”

However, she called the release of Shang-Chi a “step forward.”

“Growing up, being an actor or actress is hard. But being an actress of colour, there is this added layer of you knowing that you have to work twice as hard because there isn’t as many opportunities,” said Tong, adding that more diversity is needed in the industry.

“Yes actors play a huge role in the filmmaking industry, but people in positions of power, such as the writers, creators, producers and executives, are the ones who can enact the most change … and are the ones making the decisions.”

Shang-Chi’s lead male actor Liu, said the movie is a “watershed moment” and is a “call to action” for Asian representation in Hollywood.

"It's also a call to action for every creative, every actor, director, screenwriter of colour watching this movie. This is a watershed moment. Now is our time to step into the light and to work really, really hard, because we have to be good above all else. None of this would work if the movie wasn’t of the quality that it was."

When the trailers for Marvel’s Shang-Chi came out last month, Tong was ecstatic. Yet, the McMath secondary alumnus said she also had mixed-emotions about the film.

“I’m definitely excited, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like it’s a long time coming and even had a ‘duh, don’t you think this should have happened years ago?’ moment,” she said.

“It’s important to tell the story where the lead character is Asian, but we also need to remember the plot isn’t about them being of Asian ethnicity.”

Tong highlighted a recent film, Crazy Rich Asians, and noted that it was “the big turning point” in Hollywood’s film industry for the Asian community.

“Films like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before show that film leads can be Asian, and Western audiences can still enjoy and relate to the characters,” she said.

“Shang-Chi is another step up from this because we get to see an Asian leading role in a Marvel superhero movie, which is just awesome.”

And to add to Tong’s excitement, she recently signed with a Los Angeles manager who is working with her B.C. agent in getting her a U.S. work visa for future production work in the states.

“It was out of the blue for me, but my agent her has wanted to work with this LA manager for awhile,” said Tong.

“With an LA manager, they would be able to send me more auditions that are filmed or casted out of LA. But I have no plans to move to LA at this time.”

  • With files from Canadian Press